By Choi Yearn-hong
April is beautiful in Korea. Orchestrating white, pink and yellow colored flowers with the green leaves is artwork from the creator and to mankind who appreciate the aesthetics. White and pink cherry blossoms are making this world fluffy and beautiful, with pink and red azalea, yellow forsythia, and pink peach flowers.
All the fruit trees are presenting their spring colors in the chilly air. Apricot and apple flowers are sharing the beauty of spring.
The April visit to the poet's country house was brief, but a long blessing. I did not know the beauty of my country. No, I just forgot the beauty of April for so long.
Or I took every beautiful thing for granted for so long. I do now see the beauty of April in this economic wasteland, and am grateful to the natural gallery of art. Korea is just one ``Bloomington'' in April.
My first duty when I return to this country is going home. Going home is visiting my parents' grave on my mountain at Yeongdong County, North Chungcheong Province. My old house has been standing still ― empty ― for a very long time. My father spent his life in the city.
I have been away from home most of my life. So I visited the grave on a one-day trip. I left Seoul for the country house in the early morning to return before 3 p.m. in order to avoid the traffic.
I spent two and a half hours one-way, and one hour at the gravesite. I don't know any village people unfortunately. My youngest uncle is a farmer in my hometown.
My sister brought Korean wine, fruits, pastries our parents liked during their lifetime to the gravesite. We placed them on the stone table in front of the grave, and bowed to them. It was a simple ceremony to our deceased parents. We removed the weeds on the mound; and more than that.
We prayed for their forgiveness of our lack of filial piety. They devoted their time, energy and resources for their children, but we never returned them. After their death, we regret the fact that we were not a good son and good daughter.
All parents want their children to grow healthy, study hard and be successful in their careers. My parents were no exception. We often complained about our father's Spartan and Confucian teaching. We could understand his mind and thought.
So we beg his pardon whenever we visit his grave. Mother's devotion to us is always remembered with tears. My parents' gravesite is becoming a place of prayers. Their gravesite now has meaning in my hometown, and is becoming sacred to me and to my sister.
I composed my poem, ``An Empty House,'' and filed it here.
The house has not been occupied since my father left for the city. It is still standing, but is now occupied by a wild cat and its family. The gate orange tree-lined wall remain the same. In front of the guesthouse, gingko trees greet me while the swallows fly under the roof.
My grandpa built this house in the 1920s on a solid foundation. He planted the gingko trees from the gingko my mother brought when she married my father. These trees are almost as old as I, 67 years old.
My father named one tree, ``Poet,'' when I left for the United States. I was 26. He was using this house as his summerhouse.
My uncles' weddings were all conducted in the courtyard. My father's funeral was also conducted in the courtyard.
Now, it is full of the same weeds as the wilderness.
At the corner, a well is abandoned, but the blue sky and white clouds surround the house during the day, and stars at night. The sight of the well brings back memories of cool showers during the hot, humid summers.
The kitchen was not just a kitchen. My aunts showered in the kitchen. My grandma watched her daughters shower from outside the kitchen.
The backyard was filled with persimmon trees. There was a terrace where jars of kimchi were left for fermentation.
On the narrow wooden veranda, I read Emily Dickinson, Herman Hesse, Leo Tolstoy, Albert Camus, Ernest Hemingway and John Steinbeck during my summer vacation while the song of the cuckoo drifted down from the mountain.
Now, I sit down on the wooden floor, watching the rapid train passing through my hometown, and I feel guilty for neglecting this house. I am now very far from this house. I am in a foreign country. I visit once a year.
The wind opens the gate, inviting the birds to the orange and persimmon trees in the yard. I see a snail. I envy the snail as it lives with its home on its back as it moves about. People, in their shame, keep their houses in their hearts. It is better to be homesick.
Seoul's city train stations are considered as poetry rooms. Newly created train stations in the 1980s were decorated with the classics from Shijo to modern poems.
Then, poems disappeared and were replaced by Christian and Buddhist scriptures with short interpretations. Now, poetry has returned. So the train station reminds me of Korea a poetic country. This may be a unique Seoul landmark.
Those who wait for the train can read short poems and short essays in five to 10 minutes. Fast moving modern men and women may not find time to read poetry outside the train station.
Korea has more poets than any nation on Earth. So many poets publish so many poetry books. I am one of the old poets. I would like to propose the exhibition of selected poems suitable for each station.
The current arrangement is not meaningful as much as I propose. For example, Gyeongbok Palace Station should exhibit a couple of good poems on the famed king or queen who once occupied the palace. I also propose to exhibit the poems in Korean and English for foreigners visiting Seoul.
I have come to know that major stations are becoming performing musical centers, free for all.
Even some foreign musicians are performing at Chungmuro Station. This kind of new underground concert hall will make Seoul unique among the cities in the world.
One more note from the train station. I enjoyed reading a magazine or part of a book in a small library at the Gyodae (National Teachers' College) Station while waiting for a friend there. I am sure that some other stations also have their libraries for passengers who have to idle time in the station.
Dr. Choi is a poet and writer. He can be reached at email@example.com.